Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
A diagnosis of PCOS is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you’re a young woman and the symptoms of PCOS are wreaking havoc on your personal, professional and social life. While most of us notice that our bodies go through several changes as we age, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 25 years old can come as a shock. Accompanied by erratic and painful periods that made day-to-day life challenging and cystic acne that affected my self-esteem, I can safely say that PCOS changed my life, BUT for the better. As I learned how to treat PCOS naturally through diet, lifestyle changes and holistic treatments, I also discovered the secret to living a healthy life.
I was 25 years old when I was diagnosed with PCOS, but I now believe this had been going on for quite some time before I decided to drag myself to the doctor. I led a hectic lifestyle where I worked 6 days a week, 10 hours or more every day, and rarely ever got back home before 9pm. I also had a long commute to and from work, which only added to my woes. To say I was stressed out and tired every single day would be an understatement. As a result, I didn’t notice one of the early signs of PCOS — Fatigue.
For as far back as I can remember, I have struggled with acne. It started when I was a teenager and I had several flare-ups every year, right through college and even after I got married. I had consulted a dermatologist about a year back and was prescribed Accutane. It did clear up my acne, but also made my skin extra-dry and sensitive. Sadly, the acne returned — this time in the form of painful cystic acne along my jawline. But I didn’t treat it as yet another warning sign that all was not well. Thanks to my hectic work schedule, I also kept postponing my next dermatologist appointment.
The big red warning flag went off in my head when I finally missed a period. My periods have always been pretty consistent all through life and have never been painful. So when I noticed my period was becoming more erratic, getting delayed every month and becoming painful, I knew something was not right. After about 5 months of erratic periods, I finally missed a period completely. When a home pregnancy test came negative, I decided it was time to visit my gynaecologist.
While symptoms of PCOS can be different for everyone, with some women noticing extra facial hair while others complain of thinning hair, my particular symptoms included:
When I described my symptoms to the gynaecologist, she immediately suspected PCOS. She asked me to get blood tests to measure fasting glucose levels as well as a lipid panel. These tests revealed my fasting glucose level was 120, which indicated insulin resistance. I was surprised. Even though both my parents have Type 2 diabetes, I was not expecting to be afflicted with glucose intolerance at the age of 25!!
Additionally, the lipid profile revealed I had high triglycerides levels and lower high density lipoprotein (HDL), which are both commonly seen in women with PCOS. Finally, a transvaginal ultrasound showed numerous cyst-like growths on my ovaries, confirming that I had PCOS.
The gynaecologist explained that PCOS is caused due to hormonal imbalance, and this can lead to problems with fertility and menstrual irregularities. She said it can also lead to weight gain, acne and cysts on the ovaries. She asked me not to worry; apparently, PCOS is rather common amongst young women and a few pills could take care of the problem.
The gynaecologist first inquired if I was planning to get pregnant any time soon. When I told her I had no plans to have a baby in the near future, she recommended birth control pills. However, a previous encounter with birth control pills didn’t work so well for me — I suffer from migraines and these only make my migraine attacks more frequent and a lot more aggressive. Since I couldn’t take these at all, the doctor then prescribed Metformin – a drug commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes. However, diabetic patients take Metformin before a meal, while I was asked to take it twice a day, post meals, to “cure” insulin resistance.
The doctor also asked me to exercise every day and cut out all fats from my diet. She recommended a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, which I anyways did. So, I wasn’t all that sure how I would change my diet.
I was prescribed Regesterone 5mg, a synthetic form of progestin to induce period, so that I could chart my menstrual regularity thereafter. After that, I was supposed to take Metformin twice a day, after meals. The doctor believed metformin would cure my insulin resistance, help me ovulate and also help with weight loss — all of which would treat my PCOS.
I started treatment as told and didn’t give it a lot of thought. I continued with Metformin for 3 months, as recommended by the gynaecologist, and my periods did become regular. I went back to the doctor after 3 months; she told me everything looked good and I should continue Metformin for an additional 6 months and see her for another check-up in 3 months.
However, I had my concerns.
While I now had my periods every month, none of my other problems were resolved with Metformin. Plus, I now had new problems. Therefore, I decided to do a bit of research on how to treat PCOS naturally.
Once I decided to treat my PCOS naturally, I found out so many important things that I had no clue about. I learned more about the side-effects of Metformin and commended myself for not continuing on the drug for longer. Not only can it cause Vitamin B12 deficiency that aggravated my migraines and caused muscle aches, it is also associated with depression and gastrointestinal discomfort. In fact, I read this study that found lifestyle intervention was more effective than metformin to treat insulin resistance.
I also found out that inflammation and PCOS are closely linked. Low grade chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS, and could be the key reason for cystic acne, gastrointestinal distress, headaches and bloating.
I decided that the best way to treat my PCOS naturally was to make healthy diet and lifestyle changes. I also tried holistic remedies for bloating, acne, gastrointestinal distress and migraines, and thankfully, all of them worked. Here is a detailed look at what I did to reverse PCOS without medication.
When my gynaecologist recommended a ‘healthy diet’, I wasn’t sure of what she meant. I already ate lots of fruits and veggies, so what was I doing wrong? The simple answer – Carbohydrates. I found out that all carbohydrates turn into sugars upon digestion, which meant that a high-carb diet is a bad idea for those who have insulin resistance. I gave up on all kinds of processed foods and refined carbs. I replaced simple carbohydrates like white bread, rice, pasta with their whole-grain counterparts and ate carbohydrate in moderation. I particularly stopped eating grains for dinner, which really helped improve insulin sensitivity and also helped me lose weight. My diet comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean cuts of meat and legumes.
I had already eliminated most sugars from my diet, but I had replaced them with artificial sweeteners, which were way worse. I stopped using these, and switched to raw honey whenever I needed to add a hint of sweetness to my green tea or oatmeal. But if I am being honest, I re-trained my taste-buds to enjoy tea, smoothies and oatmeal without added sugars.
It’s amazing how easy it is to give up sugar when you completely eliminate simple carbohydrates, starches, desserts and processed foods from your diet. It’s like your taste buds easily accommodate to less sweetness in life.
One of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity is to exercise regularly. My hectic lifestyle left little time for a workout, which is why I started by changing that. A change in job gave me time to start daily walks in the evening. Come 6 PM, I would turn off my laptop, put on my sneakers and go out for a long, brisk walk. Soon, I noticed that a walk in fresh air didn’t just do wonders for my weight but also my mental health. I enjoyed this time outdoors as it helped me beat stress and fatigue while clearing up my mind. Exercise has become an integral part of my life ever since and I look forward to my daily sessions. Today, I also go for Zumba classes, practice yoga, lift weights at the gym, and take my dogs for a long, brisk walk every day.
Stress is the worst yet the most ignored factor when it comes to good health. Who isn’t stressed out these days? A long commute to work, a hectic work schedule, tons of family commitments and household chores, accompanied by poor sleep hygiene, has most of us stressed out all the time. But I decided to do something about it. A change in job freed up my evenings and gave me ample time to exercise every day, cook every meal from scratch (which I find to be a very relaxing experience), and get 8 hours of restful sleep every single night. I also started practicing yoga and meditation, which are wonderful stress relievers.
Your gut microbiome plays a key role when it comes to fighting chronic inflammation, which can cause weight gain, insulin resistance and acne. Studies have found that changes in gut microbiome can have a positive effect for weight loss, body fat as well as inflammation. Probiotics improve gut health, which in turn does wonders for your mental health as well as clearing up acne from inside-out. If you too hate ointments and creams the dermatologist prescribes to treat chronic cystic acne, adding probiotics to your diet will change your life. Personally, I used a probiotic supplement, but you can also add natural probiotics like kombucha, sauerkraur, kimchi, miso and organic yogurt to your diet.
Thanks to Metformin, my migraines were worse and I had unexplained aches and pains. When I read that Metformin could result in Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is crucial vitamin for the smooth running of the CNS (Central Nervous System), I decided to take a supplement. It worked! Many doctors will not tell you that Metformin is closely linked with Vitamin B12 deficiency, so make sure that you take supplements and keep a close eye on your B12 levels through regular blood tests. Vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal products like pork, beef, lamb, mutton, fish, shellfish, eggs and chicken, so talk to your dietician about ways to add more of these into your healthy diet.
I love Aloe Vera. It’s truly a miracle plant! Aloe Vera can increase insulin sensitivity when eaten, and is irreplaceable for holistic skin care in my books. I was tired of using ointments and creams that further irritated my skin and caused dryness, and was desperate for a holistic way to treat my red, inflamed, acne-ridden skin. I got myself a big Aloe Vera plant and used the fresh gel to make Aloe Vera juice, as well as a moisturizer.
Fresh aloe gel has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent properties that help treat acne naturally, without irritating the skin or causing dryness.
Simply wash your face with water and apply the clear gel all over. I did this twice a day, and my skin improved drastically.
Drink more water to flush out toxins and stay hydrated. It’s amazing how many of us don’t drink enough water! Not only will it help balance pH levels in the body, it will also greatly help with bloating, that is all too common in PCOS. Bloating is caused by water retention, when your body selfishly holds into water for its bodily functions. Drink more water, and your kidneys and liver will start to work optimally. Water will gently flush out excess sodium from the body, reducing bloat and puffiness. I add a wedge of lime to a tall glass of water and drink this as soon as I wake up. I continue to drink around 3-4 litres of water in a day to stay hydrated. You may need lesser or more water based on your activity levels.
Thanks to these changes, I no longer have PCOS. My period is like clockwork and comes every 25 days without fail. I no longer have to deal with cystic acne, though I still get an odd pimple during my period sometimes. I don’t have bloating or water retention before/during my period anymore, nor do I have any other sort of pain while menstruating. The last time I got blood tests to measure fasting glucose levels, it was down to 91 from 120, whereas my lipid panel showed healthy triglycerides and HDL levels.
For so many of us, PCOS can go completely undetected until we try to get pregnant. I would’ve ignored the signs had my periods not always been so regular too. When my gynaecologist asked me if my mother or sister had PCOS, I had no idea. It turned out, they had no idea either! So many of us ignore a skipped/missed period, thinking it to be a minor inconvenience, but it really is your body telling you that YOU NEED TO CHANGE THINGS.
In the end, I want to repeat – my PCOS diagnosis changed my life for the better. Today, I live a healthier, happier, more active life and it shows. All I had to do was to be patient and live the healthiest version of myself, and that’s all you need to do to reverse PCOS naturally too.
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